John Fee Embree some time ago remarked that “… we can never learn the nature of a religion simply by a perusal of the sacred texts, i.e., written words, torn from their social context; nor will a life of Buddha and a study of his original teachings in 500 B.C. tell us much of the nature of religion in contemporary Japan.” This statement from a decade and a half ago is as applicable to religious behavior and belief in a modern Buddhist country like Burma as it originally was to pre-war Japan. There is a good deal of literature which purports to be descriptive of Burmese religion and Burmese religious behavior. Much of this literature takes as an initial premise that Burma is one of the most actively Buddhistic countries in the world and that we may therefore gain the most intimate understanding of Burmese religious behavior through a perusal of the sacred canons of that faith. This approach is not without merit, and it would be foolhardy indeed to take as a premise that Burmese religion is not Buddhistic and that the Pali scriptures are worthless as explanatory points of reference. Such an alternative would be unrealistic, and would be infinitely shocking to Burmese, who certainly regard themselves as Theravada Buddhists. At the same urne, the imported nature of the Buddhist faith in Burma is well understood, and its historic superposition upon a more ancient substratum of customs and beliefs is appreciated, even though descriptive details in the matter may largely be lacking. All objective reporters speak, in greater or lesser detail, of residual elements in Burmese religion which owe little or nothing to Buddhism.

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